Doing Disney with Toddlers… Fun or Frustrating?
Truth be told, I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to go, too!
Foolishly, I believed that a day at Walt Disney World would be like a day at any other theme park.
I was mistaken.
First of all, there are four theme parks and two water parks to choose from, and they are all busy. Then, there are these crazy things like ‘Extra Magic Hours’ and Fastpass+ to consider. Top it off with deciding whether or not to go for ‘Park Hopper’ tickets and planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming instead of exciting.
Fortunately, I have a friend who’s a Disney expert (no kidding) so I was a little more prepared. But, smug ol’ traveling me got a real crash course in how preparedness makes your Disney experience fun instead of frustrating.
Disney with Toddlers: Where to Stay
If your trip to Orlando is Disney-specific, try to stay on-site at one of Disney’s resorts. The difference in price can be fairly steep between deluxe and value, but they all offer free transportation to the different parks.
And, staying on-site allows you to take advantage of ‘Extra Magic Hours’ which vary from park to park and day to day… But, essentially, the park opens early or closes late only for Walt Disney World Resort guests.
We stayed at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, which is fantastic. But, as one of their deluxe resorts, it’s pricey. It’s beautiful though, and only a five-minute walk to Epcot where there are good dining options for those who didn’t make dinner reservations up to six months in advance (ahem).
Disney with Toddlers: What to Eat
Yes, I said dining reservations six months in advance.
I learned this the hard way when I thought I was being silly booking dinner A WEEK in advance. My daughter is mad for Cinderella and one of the character dining options is dinner with Cinderella and the gang at the Grand Floridian Hotel. My husband told our daughter she’d be meeting Cinderella for dinner in order to get her psyched about our trip.
Imagine my horror when I called to reserve to be told there was NOTHING available. I tried calling back every day up until we arrived to see if there were any cancellations. As a last resort, I tried our hotel’s concierge and he managed to get us a table the following night. The moral of the story? Well, there are a few…
- Don’t – make your kids promises until you have a reservation confirmation number…
- Do – a bit of research to see if there are any special restaurants you’d like to eat at and book them immediately…
- Don’t – be surprised when your trip to Disney turns you into one of those crazy ‘my kid has to have everything’ moms!
But, eating at Disney World is really easy. The Quick Service options are very affordable and the food is pretty good. If you can, try to book your trip for when they include free dining. It really is a great value.
Also, the Disney parks are not fussy if you bring in your own food and drinks. And there are lots of water fountains around (usually near the washrooms) to refill water bottles.
Disney with Toddlers: Navigating the Parks
We had two days and two days’ worth of park-hopper passes. Although the Animal Kingdom Park looked cool, my being preggers limited the attractions and rides we’d be able to go on, so we decided to stick with the Magic Kingdom and a little bit of Epcot.
Now my husband went to Disneyland a lot in California. For me, it was Florida at least three times. It’s funny the things you don’t remember as a kid… You don’t remember the lines, you don’t remember the expense, and you don’t remember the frazzled nerves of all the parents.
Luckily, we were visiting at a quiet time, so even though the park seemed busy, the longest we waited for a ride was 30 minutes, and most times the wait was less than five minutes. It actually took us five minutes to walk on to the Finding Nemo ride at Epcot… The line area is so long! Frankly, I could not imagine visiting during peak season and waiting that long for a ride!
Apparently, good times to visit Disney World are November (before US Thanksgiving) and May (before school lets out). It was really convenient to have the Park Hopper passes, especially as we could walk to Epcot to eat, but it does add a lot to the admission. With older kids you can plan out your days better. But, with a still-napping toddler, it was a relief to have the flexibility to come and go when and where we pleased.
The bus service between the resorts and parks was amazingly convenient. Even heading back after the fireworks (a must-see… Plan for at least one late night!) was not as bad as I worried it might be. Clearly Disney knows what they’re doing, especially in terms of looking after families with young children. They even have little toddler toilets in their baby care centers!
Disney with Toddlers: Lasting Impressions
There was a lot that impressed me about Walt Disney World…
- I loved that it is 100% accessible and that even the most severely disabled people can go on some rides.
- And I loved that the healthy options at the counter service restaurants were really good and not outrageously overpriced.
- I also loved that it is super-clean and you can ask any Cast Member (Disney staff) any question and if they don’t know the answer, they’ll find out for you.
- And I loved that my daughter loved “It’s A Small World” and we went on it five times.
At certain points throughout our visit, I inexplicably turned into a blubbering idiot. While I’d love to blame the pregnancy hormones, I think it had something to do with only remembering the good from the Disney visits of my childhood. I was feeling sentimental about the past and sharing all this with my daughter. It wasn’t until our fourth trip on “It’s A Small World” that I made it through tear-free.
And the waterworks started again when they played “When You Wish Upon a Star” during the fireworks at the castle (and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pinocchio!)…
Disney with Toddlers… Is it worth it?
Our expectations were low, but ultimately, I’m glad we made the effort to visit Walt Disney World. I think our daughter will remember a lot of it for a while yet (editor’s note: she does!), and I’ll never forget her reactions to some of the sights and sounds.
Disney might be a little overwhelming for a more sensitive child. You’re the best judge of what your kid can handle. After all, it’s your vacation too!